- The Mediterranean diet is based on foods common to the Mediterranean region, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish.
- No foods are completely off limits on the Mediterranean diet, making it a sustainable option for the long haul.
- Even sweets and alcohol can be enjoyed on the Mediterranean diet, although these are typically saved for special occasions.
If you’re considering trying out the Mediterranean diet, it’s important to know which foods you should incorporate into your diet.
While there are no strict rules about what you can and can’t eat, there are certain foods that are traditionally eaten in Mediterranean countries—these are the foods that are generally prioritized on a Mediterranean diet.
We chatted with Ashley Bannister, MS, RDN, to get the scoop on which foods you should stock up on when transitioning to a Mediterranean diet. Read on for our ultimate Mediterranean diet foods list.
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What foods can you eat on the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet offers an abundant variety of food choices, emphasizing whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, healthy fats, fish, and seafood.
Even better? Unlike many other popular diets, it doesn’t restrict carbs or fat.
In fact, no foods are completely off limits on the Mediterranean diet—a perk that Noom loves. Let’s explore the foods that make up the foundation of the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean region is known for its abundance of fresh fruits that are grown there, thanks to its hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. These fruits are an important part of the Mediterranean diet.
Popular fruit options on the Mediterranean diet include:
- Prickly pears
Don’t forget the “is-this-a-fruit-or-vegetable” foods, like:
Fruits are an excellent source of many essential nutrients—like potassium, vitamin C, fiber, and folate—which are great for your overall health.
Research shows that eating a diet high in fruits can help reduce your risk of developing certain health conditions, like high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.
But that’s not all! Fruits can have a positive effect on your digestion and help reduce your appetite, which can help you lose weight on the Mediterranean diet—if that’s your goal.
Similar to fruits, the Mediterranean climate is also ideal for growing a variety of vegetables—so of course you can expect to find plenty of veggies on a typical Mediterranean diet food list.
Popular vegetable options on the Mediterranean diet include:
- Brussel sprouts
Veggies are another great source of nutrients, like vitamins A and C, potassium, folate, and fiber.
Research shows that eating a diet rich in vegetables can have many positive effects on your health, like helping reduce your blood cholesterol levels and lowering your risk of heart disease.
Vegetables have low calorie density, which means you get to enjoy a larger portion with fewer calories—a great way to satisfy your hunger while also benefiting from the boost of nutrients.
Fish and seafood
Bannister says fish, shrimp, and other seafood are Mediterranean diet staples because they’re easily accessible along the Mediterranean Sea.
Popular fish and seafood options on the Mediterranean diet include:
- Sea bass
According to Bannister, fish and seafood are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart health. Omega-3s may also help fight off inflammation and prevent blood clots from forming in your arteries.
But, if you’re landlocked, don’t worry. Harvard Health confirms that canned fish (like mackerel, tuna, and salmon) give you just as many omega-3 fatty acids as their fresh counterparts.
Whole grains are a big part of the traditional diet eaten in Mediterranean countries, which emphasizes plant-based foods.
Popular whole grain options on the Mediterranean diet include:
- Brown rice
- Basmati rice
- Whole wheat
- Whole grain pita bread
The Mediterranean diet favors whole grains that are minimally processed, according to recent research.
Bannister says whole grains like bread and whole wheat pasta should be eaten on a daily basis because they’re excellent sources of fiber and nutrients, including folate and iron.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, Mediterranean dieters should aim for three to six servings per day. One serving is roughly 1/2 cup of cooked whole grains, an ounce of dry cereal, or a single slice of bread.
Beans and legumes
Again, a traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in legumes and beans, which are treated as essential foods in the region.
Popular bean and legume options on the Mediterranean diet include:
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
Research suggests beans and legumes may be great foods to help you minimize your risk of heart disease.
Mediterranean diet guidelines recommend eating a serving of legumes two to four times per week, with serving sizes of around 1/2 cup.
Eat them plain, toss them into your favorite salad, or try a delicious hummus recipe with your vegetables.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts are common in the Mediterranean diet because several varieties are known to grow within the region.
Popular nut and seed options on the Mediterranean diet include:
- Pine nuts
- Chia seeds
Bannister recommends snacking on nuts and seeds when hunger strikes because they’re great sources of healthy fats, protein, and fiber.
Nuts and seeds also offer a fun way to add new textures and flavors to meals, like salads and poultry dishes.
Mediterranean diet guidelines typically recommend 1 to 4 servings of nuts or seeds per week. According to Harvard Health, a serving of nuts or seeds is approximately 1 to 2 ounces or roughly a handful.
Add pine nuts to your favorite pesto recipe for a buttery, sweet taste.
Herbs and spices
The Mediterranean diet is known for including plenty of herbs and spices.
This is because the region is included on the Spice Routes (also called the Maritime Silk Roads), which were ancient pathways for traders and sailors to transport spices from the East to the West.
Popular herb and spice options on the Mediterranean diet include:
Current research suggests herbs and spices may provide anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties and antioxidants and shield against type 2 diabetes.
There are no hard guidelines on how often you should eat herbs and spices, so add them to your foods according to personal preference. They are also a great way to boost the flavor of your food without adding extra salt.
Try adding garlic to your hummus, or liven up soups and stews with rosemary or sage.
According to Frontiers in Plant Science, about 98% of olives worldwide are harvested from countries located in the Mediterranean Basin.
So it’s no surprise that olives and olive oil are considered staple fat sources in the Mediterranean diet.
Popular olive oil options on the Mediterranean diet include:
- Cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil.
Research also offers hope that olive oil may do a lot for your health, including potentially helping to prevent breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
The Cleveland Clinic suggests eating as many as 4 servings of olive oil per day but aiming for a minimum of one serving per day (1 tablespoon is one serving).
Olive oil is the perfect replacement for salad dressings. Combine it with lemon or balsamic vinegar for a delicious vinaigrette.
Reflection exerciseThink about your current eating style or diets that you’ve tried in the past. Which of your favorite foods are allowed on the Mediterranean diet that you might have considered “off limits” in the past?
Write it down, or note it on your smartphone to try in your next recipe.
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A healthier you, wherever you are.
What snacks can you eat on the Mediterranean diet?
Fortunately there’s no shortage of snacks to choose from on the Mediterranean diet.
Pretty much any whole food from the above list will work, such as: whole foods like
- Low-fat greek yogurt (with honey!)
- Baked veggie chips
- Roasted chickpeas
- Smoked salmon
- Olive tapenade
See our Mediterranean diet recipes list for even more snack options.
What foods should you eat in moderation on the Mediterranean diet?
You’ve learned that the Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, but what about other foods, like poultry and dairy?
These foods are also included in the Mediterranean diet, but the goal is to eat them in moderation—which simply means keeping an eye on your intake of foods to make sure they align with your overall goals.
Let’s dive into some of these food groups.
Although the Mediterranean diet focuses mainly on plants and fish, research shows that poultry consumption is fine in moderation.
Poultry options on the Mediterranean diet include:
- Skinless, white meat chicken
- Turkey breast
Poultry, which provides a high-quality source of protein, is recommended at two to four servings per week.
As with other meats, the American Heart Association defines one serving of poultry as 3 ounces of cooked meat.
Because eggs tend to be a bit high in cholesterol, research suggests limiting yourself to 4 whole eggs per week when on the Mediterranean diet.
Egg options on the Mediterranean diet include:
- Duck eggs
Eggs are an excellent source of protein and can replace meat when you’re looking for a little variety.
According to Bannister, dairy is less prominent in the Mediterranean diet, and that includes cheese.
Cheese is typically consumed in small amounts, according to one study. Other dairy products like butter, cream, and milk are rarely used.
Cheese options on the Mediterranean diet include:
According to Oldways, a nutrition-focused nonprofit, the Mediterranean diet typically includes anywhere from one serving (about 1 cup) of dairy per day to one per week.
Remember, moderation is key—add your favorite cheeses to your meals when you’re craving a satisfying treat.
Yogurt isn’t off the table, but according to one study, it mainly comes from local sources and is not the most common choice in the Mediterranean diet.
Yogurt options on the Mediterranean diet include:
- Plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
If you’re craving yogurt, Greek yogurt is a great option, especially if you’re interested in losing weight.
One study suggests that high-protein Greek yogurt may curb your hunger and help you eat fewer calories at your next meal.
Research recommends keeping servings of all dairy products limited from once daily to once weekly.
The Mediterranean diet does make room for red wine, but it’s usually consumed in low to moderate amounts and only with meals.
Wine options on the Mediterranean diet include:
- Red wine
You may have heard that wine contains ingredients that may protect your body against free radical damage, or that red wine may help reduce your risk of certain cancers, but that’s up for debate.
Some research argues that no amount of alcohol intake leads to improved health and that alcohol may actually increase your risk of different cancers, regardless of how much you consume.
If you opt to enjoy the occasional glass of wine, Bannister recommends consuming red wine in moderation—one 3.5-ounce drink or less per day for women and two per day for men.
What foods are not allowed on the Mediterranean diet?
At Noom Weight, we don’t believe in cutting out entire food groups, as overly restrictive diets are rarely sustainable. Luckily, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes moderation over strict rules.
Bannister advises limiting (but not eliminating) foods like red meat, saturated fats, processed foods, red wine, and sweets.
According to Bannister, red meat is less common in the Mediterranean diet, which may be a big shift for some eaters.
According to Oldways, limited red meat consumption in the Mediterranean diet is the norm because animals need ample land for grazing and can be quite expensive.
Examples of red meats that are sometimes eaten on a Mediterranean diet include:
While red meat may provide a variety of different nutrients, the lack of red meat consumed on the Mediterranean diet may actually bring some health benefits.
Research shows that red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
But you don’t need to completely swear off red meats for good—simply reducing your intake could help improve your health and lifespan.
Saturated fats are not off-limits in the Mediterranean diet, but they are limited to a small percentage of your daily calories.
Examples of saturated fats that are sometimes eaten on a Mediterranean diet include:
- Processed meats
For overall health, the American Heart Association suggests keeping your saturated fat below 6% of your daily calories because these fats may lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
Let’s use a 2,000-calorie diet as an example.
For someone eating 2,000 calories per day, keeping saturated fats below 6% means less than 120 of their calories should come from saturated fats each day.
To translate this to grams per day, divide 6% of your daily calories (in this example, 120) by nine, which is the number of calories found in a single gram of fat.
This means someone on a 2,000-calorie diet should aim to keep their saturated fat below roughly 13 grams per day.
Bannister says sweets are limited on the Mediterranean diet—especially refined sugars like cane sugar. Research also points out that sweets are typically saved for celebratory occasions.
Examples of sweets that are sometimes eaten on a Mediterranean diet include:
- Sweets based on nuts, honey, and olive oil
We’ve all heard that it’s a good idea to consume sweets only in moderation—but why?
One study notes that the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association recommend the Mediterranean diet to increase insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes.
This study also found that a Mediterranean diet may also help reduce your risk of developing diabetes by as much as 23%.
But cutting out added sugars alone probably isn’t very useful for overall health, according to one study. You still need to modify your diet in other meaningful ways to boost health—like eating more vegetables or incorporating a calorie deficit if you want to lose weight.
If you have a sweet tooth, don’t worry—you still have options. Although the Cleveland Clinic suggests limiting sweets to less than three times per week, this refers to foods with added sugar, like cookies, cakes, and sugary drinks.
Opt for fruit to satisfy your sweets cravings instead.
Processed foods are any foods that are modified before you buy them. Processing includes pre-cooking, pre-preparing, and adding ingredients to boost flavor or preserve your food.
Bannister says the Mediterranean diet limits highly processed foods, which can be difficult if you prefer convenient pre-packaged food options like frozen meals, breakfast cereals, deli meats, or granola.
Research points to a possible association between these highly processed foods and an increased risk of certain diseases (like heart disease and metabolic syndrome), as well as being overweight or obese.
The good news is there are plenty of Mediterranean diet-friendly options that are just as convenient.
Try swapping processed foods for easy Mediterranean-diet-friendly options, including:
- Carrot sticks
- Snap peas
- Fresh fruits
For more ideas, check out our Mediterranean diet grocery shopping list.
What Mediterranean diet meal ideas will you try?
Rather than focusing on what you can’t have (or labeling anything as “off limits”), the Mediterranean diet simply focuses on foods that are common to the region.
This makes it a flexible option if you’re considering a new way of eating that doesn’t feel like a traditional “diet.”
If you’re ready to learn more about preparing these Mediterranean diet-friendly foods, check out our Mediterranean diet recipes article for some serious inspiration. Try Noom Weight today.